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A telephone card, calling card or prepaid phone card for short, is a small calling card, usually resembling a credit card, used to pay for telephone services. Typically Such cards are used for international calling from the to an international destination. These prepaid international calling cards can either employ a prepaid credit system or credit card style system of credit. The exact system for payment, and the way in which the card is used to place a telephone call, depend on the overall telecommunication system. Currently, the most common types of prepaid international calling cards involve pre-paid credit in which the calling card is purchased with a specific preset balance, from which the cost of both domestic and international calls made are deducted. Most pre-paid phone cards are disposable. When the balance is exhausted you simply buy a new calling card. Most prepaid international calling cards can be refilled. The other main type of international calling card involves a calling card with a special PIN printed on it, that allows you to charge domestic and international calls to a land-line telephone account.
In “stored value calling cards”, called so because the calling card itself contains the balance available. The balance is read by the public pay-phone machine when it is inserted into the machine's calling card reader. This is similar to an automated teller machine at a bank. There are several ways in which the value can be encoded on the prepaid calling card.
The earliest system used a magnetic stripe as the information carrier, similar to the technology of ATMs and key cards. It was issued in 1976 in Italy , manufactured by SIDA.
The next technology used optical storage. Optical prepaid phone cards get their name from visible marks left on the calling card itself, such as holes or lines, so that the calling card reader scans for such marks and determines the balance on the phone card. Optical calling cards, such as ones made by Landis+Gyr and Anritsu, were popular early phone cards in many countries. Such technology is quite simple and easily hack able, thus for security reasons, among others, optical phone cards have been steadily phased out around the world. Optical phone cards are still in use in several countries, perhaps most notably in Japan.
The third sub-system of stored value phone cards is “chip” based calling cards, first launched on a large scale in France in 1986 by France Telecom. Many other countries followed suit, including Ireland in 1990 and the UK circa 1994-1995, which phased out the old green Landis & Gyr prepaid calling cards in favor of more colorful smart cards. The initial microchips were easy to hack, typically by scratching off the programming-voltage contact on the phone card, which rendered the phone unable to reduce the prepaid calling card's value after a call. But by the mid-to-late 1990s, highly secure technology aided the spread of chip based phone cards worldwide.
The second main technology of prepaid international calling cards is remote memory, which uses a toll or toll-free access number to reach the database and check for balance on the calling card. As the United States did not ever have a single nationalized telephone service (or even the same firm for every part of a state), and with the deregulation of its major ones, there was no incentive to be consistent with the rest of the world. The ease of use of sliding a calling card into a machine just as in a ATM machine was countered by fears of vandalism of the machines.
The first public pre-paid remote memory phone card was issued in the United States in December, 1980 by Phone Line. As telecom industries around the world became deregulated, remote memory calling cards were issued in various countries. Remote memory phone cards can be used from any tone-mode phone and do not require special calling card readers. Since remote memory cards are more accessible and have lower costs, remote memory phone cards have proliferated. However, the utility of these cards are reduced due to the large number of digits that need to be entered during usage. To call an international or domestic long distance number, the user first dials the local access number, then keys in the secret code, followed by the actual long distance number. Based on the long distance number entered, the time remaining on the prepaid calling card is announced, and the international call is processed through.
PIN based prepaid international calling cards are in essence text; requiring an access number, a unique PIN and instructions. Therefore the instructions can be printed on virtually anything, or can be delivered via e-mail or the Internet. Currently many websites sell prepaid international calling cards or phone cards through e-mail.
Phone cards or prepaid international calling cards are available in most countries in retail stores, retail chains and commonly corner stores. Generally, remote memory phone cards can be issued by many companies and come in countless varieties. They can focus on international calling to certain countries or regions and have specific features such as recharge ability, pin less dial, speed dial and more. Phone cards or prepaid calling cards may have connection fees, taxes and maintenance fees, all of these fees influence the true rates.
In recent times, prepaid calling card service providers have gone one step ahead in reducing the costs and increasing convenience by introducing international calling card accounts. International calling card accounts eliminate the need for printing of a physical calling card; accounts are available only in electronic form. Prepaid international calling card accounts can be purchased over the Internet using credit cards and are instantly delivered to the customer via e-mail. This e-mail contains the PIN and instructions for using the service.
International Calling refers to calls made between different countries. The international calls are processed by gateway exchanges (switches). The rates for international calls were expensive but are now cheaper due to advances in technology. Originally international calling calls were placed via operator. These international calls were transmitted by cable, satellite, radio, and more recently, fiber optics and VOIP. IDD or ISD (International Direct Dialing) was introduced in the 1970s, so international calls can be dialed without an operator. With 011 Mobile these calls can be placed by using the ‘9’ key.
Every country has both a country calling code used to dial into a country, and an international calling prefix or international calling code used to dial out of the country. The ITU approved 00 as the general standard some time ago, and this has been implemented by a large number of countries, but not all. International phone numbers are usually written with a + before the phone number representing the international calling prefix. Some phones allow this to be entered directly, often by holding the '0' key (011 Mobile Phones require you to hold down the ‘9’ key). Many states also provide alternative dialing arrangements for international calls to neighboring countries.